Cover Image: Plain Bad Heroines

Plain Bad Heroines

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Member Reviews

I adored the audio version of Plain Bad Heroines read by Xe Sands. I also read the ebook version but definitely preferred listening to this highly original, gothic, over the top, highly entertaining novel. Xe Sands reads it perfectly, her  voice perfectly captures the heart of this novel and it's compelling tones completely pulled me in to the story. A highly recommended listen.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this digital audiobook.
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Narration 5/5 stars
Book 3/5 stars

A story within a story within a story. The story of the Brookhants School for Girls and the horrific death of students and lovers Clara and Flo due to a swarm of yellow jackets. Shortly after their death, another student is found dead through accidental poisoning, and it's not long before another body follows. Over 100 years later, actresses Harper and Audrey are playing Clara and Flo in a movie about Brookhants and team up with Merritt, the author of a book about the school. But strange things are happening, and it's hard to know if the school and the story is really cursed or if it's all just a strange coincidence.

This is a slow burn story that flips back and forth between 1902 and the story of Clara and Flo, but also the story of Libby and Alex - teachers in the school, as well as chapters from Audrey and Merritt as filming of the movie gets underway and they are both charmed by the enigmatic starlet Harper Harper. The unravelling of the story and the slow reveals of the death and destruction in 1902, as well as the weird things you aren't sure are really happening in Brookhants in the modern story (is it all in the girls' heads?), were all done really well and I did very much enjoy my audiobook experience of the story.

I have to say the audiobook is absolutely excellent and I 100% recommend it for anyone thinking of picking up via this reading method. The narrator Xe Sands is just brilliant at what she does (I've previously listened to another book she narrated Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk) and her voice is just so suitable to a certain type of narration - one that is educating the reader but is able to hold a lot of mystery and power but also a but of humour and mischief (I know something you don't know).

The story, especially near the end didn't contain a real shocking moment or a 'wow' moment for me which is why it's at a 3 star but it's a strong 3 star for me. I'm not sure as well if dark academia is a genre I really love either.

I loved the relationship between the girls - how it started with Harper and Merritt and then how slowly, Audrey was drawn into the fold and they became this trio against the world. The last chapter served up so many iconic moments I feel I could see on my own Instagram feed as people reported on the premiere, it was done really well.
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Although I really liked the sound of this book I found it rather difficult to follow and although I hate to do so gave up listening part way through. I did however enjoy the narrator and found the voice interesting. I’m hoping this is a book I can return to and enjoy in the future but it may just be a matter of taste differences
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This is a book within three other books and a film. The film that being made sounds like a fever dream, that would probably be bad. Also sounds like a great way to be sued. 
This book has multiple main characters, and we follow close focus of three in the presence and a collection in the past. No one is straight in this book, so definitely has queer characters, It does have a canon Bi character and as well as a character in an open relationship. 
The point of view is interesting having an ambivalent narrator, telling us of past events. If you don't like Fabulism then you're probably won't like this book, because it plays into it. This book is technically horror, definitely horror tropes anyway. This book would probably be freaky to some but I just think the imaginary is nice. It's gothic, I'm glad that's coming back. 
The setting of board school doesn't hit like an a boarding school, nor would I recommend it for the film aspect. If that's all you're interested in, this book doesn't really scratch that itch. The boarding school is really small part of the book, and we don't spend much time with any of the students. It's more spooky abandon building in usage in the story. 
I listened to the audiobook, which was well performed. I think this does especially suited the style of this book and it's on the longer side so it's definitely the way I would have choose to consume the book, even without having received the book for review. 
Overall, I give the 4/5 stars for Sapphic Clubs. This a spooky book that does leave you with questions, also an conclusion. It's a queer, fun time. Well, other people might not use the word fun...
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To start with I really enjoyed this book - I adapted to the writing style quickly and enjoyed the writing but sadly I quickly lost interest. I suspect I am the wrong reader audience for this book.
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I enjoyed this audiobook despite it being very different from my usual type. The narrator was very interesting with a laid back drawl that was pleasant to listen to. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys a good gothic novel.
My thanks to NetGalley, the publisher and the author for allowing me to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review
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I'm sorry, I couldn't bear to listen to this as i found the narrator so irritating.
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3.5/5 Stars

Way back in 2018, when I had just arrived in the sunny Loire region of France for the first semester of my Erasmus exchange, I picked up the ebook of Emily M. Danforth’s first novel, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and promptly fell in love with the witty writing and gritty characters. Three years on from that, Plain Bad Heroines is one of my most anticipated releases of the year, not only for its intriguing synopsis and glowing reviews, but also because I’ve been dying to read more of Emily M. Danforth’s gorgeous writing! I was so lucky to be approved for an audiobook ARC and had to physically restrain myself from picking it up months before the actual release. It was much to my disappointment, then, that I ended up finishing such a promising book with a solid sense of confusion and misunderstanding.

Plain Bad Heroines is a dual timeline behemoth of a book. The book opens in 1902 at Brookhants School for Girls where two girls in love, Flo and Clara, are tragically killed in a yellow jacket attack, throwing the school into the brink of closure. More than a hundred years later, we follow up and coming actress, Audrey, and well-loved celesbian, Harper Harper, working together on a new film – an adaptation of a book surrounding Flo and Clara and the rumoured Brookhants curse, written by Merritt who grew up there. The Goodreads synopsis of this book suggests that Plain Bad Heroines was to be some sort of a gothic-horror-esque novel following Flo and Clara leading up to their demise, alongside the film plot, but that was definitely not the case. I was extremely excited for sapphics in an early 20th-century boarding school setting and was sorely disappointed to find out that that was not the case here. Despite this, I could put that misunderstanding behind me, and I did enjoy the story of the school in 1902 that we did actually get.

Although my expectations were not met plotwise, my expectations for Emily M. Danforth’s writing were well and truly exceeded! This book was so unbelievably atmospheric and Danforth’s writing felt so lush and beautiful. Sometimes when listening to audiobooks I don’t feel fully connected to the story as I would when reading a physical or ebook copy, but that certainly was not the case here, and I think the wonderful narrator also had a part to play in that. The type of horror in this book is not the jumpscare, constantly on edge kind that you can find in books such as Into the Drowning Deep, but instead is something sticky and heavy that lingers on your clothes and in your hair even when you think you’re finally free of it. Much like what the characters come across in the book it’s like a constant crooning of a swarm of wasps that are just out of sight, and the thick, cloying smell of rotting apples everywhere you turn, and it was truly a delight to read.

The characters were another aspect of the book I really enjoyed. Our three present day main characters, Harper, Audrey and Merritt, were all so different, and at times jarring, and they worked so well. Harper Harper (yes, that is her name) is a well loved celesbian, think Kristen Stewart type character, who is so enthusiastic about everything and is all about living in the moment. Audrey is an up-and-coming child actress who has finally got her big break, but still feels overshadowed by her mother’s own fame. And Merritt, the author of the book that the film is being based on, is a standoffish, brusque character who you can count on to speak her mind. Their dynamics throughout the book were constantly evolving and I really enjoyed where they ended up at the end of the book. Our 1902 perspectives, the headmistress of the school, Libbie, and her companion, Alex, were just as enjoyable, if not more so. Their relationship was fraught and yet so full of love, and I really felt that both of them deserved better than they got! Adding onto this, there is an omniscient narrator telling the whole story. I know in the finished copy there are footnotes, though I’m not sure they were included in the audiobook, but from what I’ve heard they’re rather amusing and I can’t wait to read the physical copy to get the full experience! Moreover, almost all the characters of any importance in this book are queer – you could probably count all the cishet characters in this book on one hand, and I loved that about the book!

The plot is extremely intriguing. Because it’s such a large book, I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling something, but I enjoyed trying to figure out the curse alongside the rest of the characters. That being said, after finishing the book, when everything was meant to have been revealed, I found myself so confused as to what had actually happened. I don’t know if this was because I listened to the audiobook or not, but I still could not explain to you what the curse actually was, and if there was anything magical or paranormal about it at all (if anyone can explain it to me, I’d be very much indebted to them). I also felt that the plot regarding Audrey, Merritt and Harper was building up and building up into some kind of explosive conclusion but it just trickled into nothing – it ended so abruptly and nothing felt resolved.

Despite that, I did enjoy the book, and perhaps after a re-read where I can fully digest everything that is happening, alongside all of the footnotes and illustrations, my rating might end up being much higher. I do still really recommend this book, it’s a fantastic horror debut that I think would be the perfect read for the height of Summer if you want the atmosphere to feel all that more realistic!
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I had seen reviews of this on NetGalley, and could not believe the UK release was so long after the US one...so I requested the audiobook on NetGalley, and when I was sent an ARC I jumped straight in. 
I listened to the opening with such a sense of anticipation, and found myself captivated but also repulsed by the opening. I dislike intensely the thought of being stung, so this was a particularly macabre scene with which to open the novel...though the story definitely intrigued me. 
Unfortunately, my tendency to read a couple of books at the same time meant that I soon found myself totally lost by this. The shifting perspectives and chronology is one of the strengths of the story - having now finished it, I am in awe at how cleverly constructed this is - but trying to listen to it in short bursts with gaps in-between was not working out. It got set aside until I knew I could do it justice.
Finding myself with the arduous task of stripping a bathroom, what more excuse could I find but to try and use the time wisely? Back to it...
Second time round - and actually listening to it for hours at a time over two days - meant I found myself immersed in the story from the outset. Listening to/reading the stories surrounding Brookhants School for Girls and its mysterious curse was a joy.
In the publicity material we are told that this is a story of parts - queer love story, Gothic horror and Hollywood satire. The focus is on a number of stories tied to Brookhants over time: that of Libby Brookhants and her lover, Alex; poor Flora and Cara and, lastly, Harper Harper and Audrey. The one thing that unites these three stories is the mysterious Brrokhants School for Girls and the scandalous memoir that seems to hold the key to the purported curse.
I don't want to say too much because Danforth reveals all, and the way she chooses to do this gave me physical chills. I never felt as if I could tell exactly what was happening, and the events unfolding - in whichever timeline we were focused on - were beautifully described. The narrator on the audiobook gave a different perspective on the experience, and this is certainly a book I will have to physically read too.
A huge thank you to the publishers Harper Collins and NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to its release.
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This book was odd for sure. And neither in a good or bad way- just odd. I thought it was going to be a YA gothic horror but this was not true at all. The narrator was really interesting, almost an omniscient narrator. This book was really gay with multiple characters being gay and bi which had good representation. This is a book I would recommend to people who are open to a different writing style.
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Plain Bad Heroines 

I enjoyed this book despite it being unlike my usual reads. I’m not much of a horror reader and I don’t really like celebrity romance tropes. 

Having said that I do enjoy a bit of dark academia/ sapphic love story and this book was FULL of that. I was engaged in the story right up until the ending which fell a bit flat, I wanted it to go out with a bit more of a bang. 

The narration was good and I liked the omniscient narrator, I thought it worked well as an audiobook. It could have done with being shorter!
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A tangled and thorny tale indeed, this book is a bit bonkers. It's made up of stories within stories all revolving around Brookhants School for Girls and those damned yellow jacket wasps. "Plain Bad Heroines" is gothic, queer and much of it revolves around a real person (one Mary MacLaine) and a book she wrote which I expect will see a big resurgence next year.

I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this book or what rating to assign. For starters, it's huge at over 600 pages. I have both the ebook and audiobook and I think that's probably the best way to approach it. The ebook is beautifully laid out with a map and gorgeous illustrations throughout. The audiobook is narrated by Xe Sands in a languid, unhurried drawl which hints at a life well lived and wraps around you as the tale unfolds. I spent a great deal of time with these stories within stories, spanning more than a century. Now that it's finished I feel a bit confused (this is not a book which ends neatly), bereft and certain that I will go back to it at some point. I'm going to miss it, despite neither loving nor hating it. One thing is for sure - I am very much not looking forward to wasp season next year.
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Haunting, atmospheric, quirky and self aware, this novel is a must-read! PLAIN BAD HEROINES is like the long lost lovechild of the Brontes, Daphne Du Maurier and Taylor Jenkins Reid. 
Danforth's storytelling is cheeky and charming, making it easy for the reader to be immersed in the world of the story in no time whatsoever. Her characters come alive right off the page, their peculiar traits and flaws being what makes them so endearing to the reader. The setting comes alive right off the page, attractive not in spite of its ghosts and specters and its complicated past and lore, but because of them. 
Also must add that what I'd highly highly HIGHLY recommend giving this a go on audio if possible, as it has one of the most gorgeous, perfect narrations I have ever heard.
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Creepy creepy... if you didn't already hate wasps then you probably will after this read.

There's so much going on here but all the threads are only tangled where intended, it's not hard to follow. We have a spooky mysterious narrator, a creepy gothic set of locations, so many interesting heroines and some very definitely menacing wasps.

The audiobook narration was brilliantly done and I thought the little asides to 'dear reader' really added to the atmosphere. Recommended to anyone who enjoys a good gothic novel.
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I loved the description of this book, and wanted to read immediately. I think it was satisfactory in some aspects. But, it failed in others. The writing is definitely good, so I'd be following the writer. 
First of all, the book is too long for what it's telling. It's detailed, but to the limit that it compromises, the pace of the plot and you come to a point of giving up. 
It's the case with most big books, plot goes all over the place and the book can't escape to be boring at times. 
In this case, story was interesting, characters were interesting, writing was good. But, it should have been much shorter. The narrator was OK, not so fantastic, but not bad. 

Thanks a lot to the publisher and NG for this copy.
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I was so excited to read this book. So, so, excited to read this book. Though I was glad to be able to get it in audio. Because this book is a chonker and I knew I'd have to listen to get through it.

But it was still so slow and I hate that. 

I'll give this book credit where it's due. I love the whole reader aspect and it made me want to do research of my own. The characters were great and it really was creepy.

But there wasn't enough creepy in it by the 25% mark. I hate when books with horror aspect take so long for it to feel like anything is happening. I didn't want to pick it up and it was a struggle. 

The narrator was okay, but not the best. There weren't many differences in voices but I didn't mind listening to her.

This book was just too slow for me!
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When I got the chance to listen to this audiobook I was  excited. The description seemed to be right up my street, and I had heard a great deal about the book.. I loved the idea of  a modern gothic horror, especially as some people had described it as having black comedic elements.

However I found the reality somewhat different. There was definitely a gothic style to the writing, but not necessarily in a good way. The descriptive narrative, of which there is a lot, was extremely long winded, it would make Thomas Hardy look short and snappy! As a piece of prose it is beautifully written, however as a novel, and a horror novel I felt it failed. The writer can really write, and if I was forced to read this for an English Literature exam I could have got a great deal out of it. It is chock full of symbolism and metaphors, and opens itself up for that type of scholastic analysis. I know there are people who absolutely loved this book, but alas I am not one of them.

The plot ambled about all over the place, I liked the fact that it dipped into different places in the past and present, but didn't feel that it moved the plot forward. After listening to 80% of the audio book I gave up as I felt that life was to short to be listening to something that I just wanted to get through and was not enjoying. If nothing seemed to be happening that had hooked my interest at that point, I couldn't imagine I was going to miss much in the final chapters.

There were some horrific parts to the book, that is true, but surely a horror novel should build tension and suspense? I certainly didn't get that from this audio book. There was nothing remotely comedic about any of it, it was all rather depressing.

I also didn't like the portrayal of the women in this novel as being used , weakened by life's traumas and deeply flawed. They all seemed to be controlled by men who were the puppet masters. There wasn't any balance - there should have been strong dynamic women too, not all women are victims.

I didn't enjoy the narration much either, I felt that too was slow and dull. A lot more could have been made of the tale to deliver something that aided the plot, but I didn't feel that it did.

In conclusion, this was not the audiobook for me.
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Plain Bad Heroines is a luscious and deliciously gothic book that often had my skin crawling.  Jumping between two different times, it follows the tragic events surrounding the deaths of students at The Brookhaunts School for Girls in 1902 and over a century later the making of a horror movie based on a bestselling book on the school. I have always loved gothic books and I had been trying to find some good queer gothic books and I was delighted to find Plain Bad Heroines satisfied my queer gothic cravings.  

While I did enjoy the book, I will say that it’s slow and did tend to drag at times. When the book did pick up, I couldn’t put it down, but you have to push through some of the slower parts. I think it could have done with trimming some of the earlier parts of the modern-day timeline to help with the pacing. I enjoyed the 1902 time a lot more and only got invested in the modern day time when they started filming at the school and the characters are put through the horrors of Brookhaunts. With all that said, I did enjoy the highly atmospheric tension build up as the characters of both times encounter a never-ending stream of horrors. I only wish the ending had paid off all that build-up, as I felt the modern time ended anticlimactically and there wasn’t much connection between the two timelines outside of the setting.    

I have a big fear of wasps and generally any small flying buzzing animal, so I found this book incredibly horrifying. Even if you don’t share my phobia, I do not doubt that you will find the masterfully written nightmarish scenes often involving buzzing wasps driving characters to madness to be terrifying. The opening chapter details one of the most horrific ways to die I’ve read, and this book is certainly not for the faint of heart. 

I listened to the audiobook and I was delighted to hear the smooth velvety voice of Xe Sands who was a perfect fit for the tone of the book. I had previously fallen in love with their narration when I listened to Magic for Liars and I will look forward what other books they will narrate in future, I would love to see them do more horror books. 
Thanks to HarperCollins for giving me a free audiobook advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Ok I liked the narrator and the premise of this book seemed intetsting. Putting them both together didn't work for me. I'm not sure this narrator suited this book. And I think in hindsight the style of the book meant it was not for me. I gave it a good three hours and got nowhere. This is clearly me being outside the target audience so please check out other reviews. I'm sad this is a DNF.
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An intricate, lengthy ghost story, about a haunted girls school in 1902, and the group of modern actors who are filming a movie about the ghost story. Unfortunately, the crew are planning to make a haunting on-set, to build up the hype of the movie and add a second layer to the spookiness of the narrative. I loved both timelines, which were equally diverse with queer characters and intrigue. The writing was lush and relaxed, taking its time to build a realistic world on its way towards the ending. There's also some wonderful horrifying moments in there too - if you're wasp-phobic, this one might not be for you!
I listened to the audiobook, which was really nicely done - I especially enjoyed how truly modern the 2020 characters sounded compared to the historical storyline. It made the banter all the more fun too, as some of the intonations were perfectly timed! I listened on 1.75x speed.
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